May 21, 2013 | 12:02 PM (BD Time)
21 May, 2013 Tuesday
War with undefined objectives
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury :
The Qatar round of talks between the United States and the Taliban has apparently failed. Neither side has made any statement on the discussions and the reason of the failure of the talks. It is however reported that the conditions put forward by the U.S. representatives were extreme and left very little room for the Taliban. Taliban did not like to be dictated about the rules of the governance of the country that belongs to them. Following the failure of the talks the Taliban mounted several attacks in Kabul and other places in the country inflicting considerable damage. The Taliban claimed the attacks were part of the spring offensive implying that more attacks are in their war plan.
The Taliban emerged in the political arena of Afghanistan on the vacuum resulted from the intrigue and internal fighting of different fractions of the government installed after the withdrawal of the Soviet occupation army. The fights between the forces of war lords during 1993-94 killed around 23,000 people and caused unprecedented destructions in Kabul. In 2001 they were overthrown by the U.S. and her allies. The Taliban took refuge in the hills and mountains. Now they have have returned taking advantage of the discontent of the people. They succeeded in infiltrating into the national army and the police force. The Taliban has gained sufficient capability to strike a target at a time of its own choice. Only a few months ago it was able to attack the NATO headquarter in Kabul and inflicted heavy casualty.
The growing casualty and the economic toll have turned the people of the United States against the war in Afghanistan. At present over 66 percent of the population are in favor of total withdrawal of troops. President Obama had earlier declared that by 2014 the U.S. troops will be withdrawn. On May 1, the American President however has signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with his Afghan counterpart. It is said that through this Agreement, United States seeks to cement an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity, and that contributes to the shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates.
"The Agreement affirms U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions and regional cooperation are matched by Afghan commitments to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversight, and to protect the human rights of all Afghans - men and women. In addition to recognizing the progress that has been made together over the past 10 years, the SPA includes mutual commitments in the areas of: Protecting and Promoting Shared Democratic Values, Advancing Long-Term Security, Reinforcing Regional Security and Cooperation, Social and Economic Development and Strengthening Afghan Institutions and Governance." On the enduring U.S. presence, the SPA commits Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda.
Though the partnership agreement suffers from lack of specificity it is however clear that the U.S. government wants to retain its troops in Afghanistan for a longer period. This very provision runs contrary to the earlier commitment of President Obama to withdraw U.S. troops by 2014. Given the rise of anti-American sentiment in the region long term presence of U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan would serve as an irritant and put their lives at risk.
The U.S. decision to kill the Taliban or its affiliates through drone strikes on the soil of Pakistan has been ill advised; it infuriated the people of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan understand the rational of the U.S. commando's air raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. However, people cannot be expected to ignore repeated drone strikes deep inside their territory. The entire country rose in anger when the drone attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in last November. The government, in response, sealed the vital supply route for the U.S army passed through its territory to Afghanistan. The Parliament passed a unanimous resolution providing guidelines on Pakistan- American relation. The high level delegation of the U.S. government had extensive discussions with the Pakistani officials in Islamabad last month. No news of breakthrough in the bilateral relation including the reopening of the supply route has yet been received. The drone strikes continue to kill innocent people in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somali as well. The civilian casualty perturbed the Afghan President so much that he wanted the foreign troops to cease military operation in the countryside.
The drone strikes are made on the territory of another country and without its concurrence. If the attacks are limited to high profile targets sought by the United States one could try to find some rational of the attacks. But when the attacks were repeatedly made and the victims included innocent civilians people rightly blamed their own government for not being able to provide their security. By launching drone strikes deep inside the territories of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia the United States has succeeded in alienating the people. The people in these countries would believe that they have become the soft targets of a superpower and their governments lack the courage to stand against an intruder. This feeling would play in the hands of the militants to have more recruits. United States would create more enemies than it would eliminate by drone strikes in the countries struggling against insurgency.
The U.S. administration should bear in mind that Pakistan has the record of aligning with the United States in the past. During the cold war era Pakistan joined the U.S. block even at the risk of irritating the Soviet Union. It allowed the American to have military base near Peshawar. However, its cordial relation did not pay much dividend at the time of crisis. During the 1965 war with India, United States imposed arm embargo on the warring countries which affected Pakistan much more severely than India. Earlier at the Sino-India border skirmish in 1962, United States and her European allies dismissed the concerns of Pakistan and provided massive military assistance to India. Pakistan became a buffer state during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and provided much needed space to the United States and her allies to support anti soviet insurgency. Pakistan, as recent as in 2001, turned against the Taliban and extended all possible support to the United States in its war efforts. In the process it earned the wrath of the Taliban and became a victim of insurgency. The United States should take these into account and treat Pakistan like a responsible partner, try to understand the socio-political compulsion of the people and appreciate their legitimate concerns. An exit strategy developed, in close participation with the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, will have the potential of success. United States can play a role in this turbulent corner of the Hindu Kush to the extent defined by the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. No war could be won without the support of the people. United States fought for more than twelve years in Indo-China and 52,000 soldiers laid down their lives; still could not stop the unification of Vietnam. It would be a betrayal of the memory of the fallen soldiers to forget this costly lesson of the American history. In this backdrop planning to keep the U.S. troops in Afghanistan for an indefinite period would serve no useful purpose.
(The author is a former official of the United Nations.)
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